Newsletter: December - 2012

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Dear NSF Families,

It is now the holiday season! With Diwali and Thanksgiving just past, and Christmas and New Year's right around the corner, there is plenty of celebrating to go around. We wish all of you a happy holiday season and hope you can begin 2013 just the way you plan to. The New Year is time for a fresh start - and also time to begin preparing for NSF's upcoming regional contests in 2013. We wish all of you the best of luck. Let's make this year the best one NSF has seen so far!
Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
As an added result of the recent presidential election, the nation is likely to see several educational changes take place in the future. Of the many education-related initiatives that appeared on ballots this November, only a few were approved by voters. Residents of California passed Prop. 30, which raised income tax by about two percent in order to fund education. This proposition is guaranteed to last for at least seven years, giving more funding to schools and colleges. Since the UCs (UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, etc.) have had the fastest growing college tuition in the last couple of years, this proposition hopefully signals a change. Several more propositions were also passed in other states. In Georgia, Amendment 1 establishes a state commission for the authorization of charter schools. Maryland’s Dream Act renders some of the state's unauthorized high school students eligible for in-state tuition at universities. Change is also taking place on a national level.
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For example, the U.S. Department of Education's "Race to the Top" school grants (grants provided to the best schools in our country) are likely to become more popular, hopefully improving the USA's schools. If all goes well, it's time for us to say hello to some educational improvement!
Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
Rahul Nagvekar, a previous NSF geography bee finalist, just won the 2012 National Geographic Bee Championship. Thecompetition tookplace in May of this year. We decided to interview him and congratulate him for his success.

Shrinidhi: Hi! Congratulations on your achievements at the National Geographic Bee! Could you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Rahul: I am a ninth grader at Dulles High School in Sugar Land, Texas. My interests include playing the piano and participating in math and science competitions.

Shrinidhi: How did you get introduced to the Geographic Bee competitions?
Rahul: From a very young age I was always interested in learning more about the world. When I heard of the National Geographic Bee in fourth grade, I immediately knew that I would want to take part in it.

Shrinidhi: What would you say are the best and worst moments of your journey in studying for the Geographic Bee?
Rahul: Preparing and studying for the competition was hard work. At certain points during my preparation, I
recognized that all of this hard work was going to be worth the reward, and this motivated me to continue working harder. These were the best moments of my journey. As I prepared and studied for the competition there were many times when I had to remember facts and information. When I would forget them, I would become very frustrated with myself. These were the worst moments of my journey.

Shrinidhi: What was your method of preparation and what kind of materials did you use?
Rahul: I tried to use all the tools and methods that were available to me. Other than an atlas, I read the National Geographic Magazine (including the map supplements) to gain additional knowledge. I also used the internet to search for information and learn about specific places.

Shrinidhi: Are there any special techniques, tips, or tricks you like to share with our readers?
Rahul: The only 'advice' that I have for readers who are thinking of participating in the bee is this: Participating in the National Geographic Bee is always very exciting, but it is even more rewarding for those who enjoy it.

Shrinidhi: Did you have a coach? If you did, how did he/she help you?
Rahul: I did not have a formal coach, but my parents served as my coaches as I prepared for the competition. They asked me questions almost every day in order to help me remember the information that I had studied. Their help was an essential part of my preparation.

Shrinidhi: How did you manage to stay focused and motivated?
Rahul: I had to convince myself that all of the effort I was putting in to my preparation would ultimately pay off.

Shrinidhi: Do you have a role model? If you do, who is he/she and why is this person your role model?
Rahul: I did not have a specific role model. However, I admired the intelligence and determination that all of the previous National Geographic Bee winners must have had in order to achieve their success.

Shrinidhi: How did you feel in that moment when you realized you were the 2012 National Geographic Bee Champion?
Rahul: I was somewhat surprised since I had guessed the answer to the final question. I did not know that my answer was correct until Alex Trebek announced that I was the 2012 champion.

Shrinidhi: Has life changed any after the Geography Bee win? Do your classmates, friends, and teachers now treat you any differently than before?
Rahul: Going to school is the same for me. My classmates, friends, and teachers were very enthusiastic when they heard that I had won. I am sure they would have been proud of me even if I had not won first place. They were very supportive of me from the start and I am very thankful for the encouragement I received from them.

Shrinidhi: What is your next challenge after the Geography Bee?
Rahul: I plan to participate in math and science competitions in high school as well as a geography competition called WorldQuest.

Shrinidhi: What are your career plans? What do you want to be?
Rahul: I am not very sure. My parents are engineers and this has led me to think about entering some sort of a science field. I also think it would be exciting to work for National Geographic, perhaps as a researcher.

Shrinidhi: What is your goal in life?
Rahul: I hope to help others, be a productive member of my community, and expand my knowledge of various topics (not only geography).

Shrinidhi: Thanks so much for your time. Do you have any last words or advice for our young readers?
Rahul: I encourage readers who might be thinking of participating in the Geography Bee to give the competition a try. I am sure that many of them will discover that it is a very exciting and enjoyable experience.

Shrinidhi Thirumalai
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
NSF oversaw another successful year of our APNA India Ambassadors program, which provides an excellent opportunity for high school students in the USA to volunteer in India. Below are some very interesting experiences from two of our volunteers. The next issue of NSF’s newsletter will contain more of these inspirational stories. For additional details about NSF's APNA program, please visit:

Spelling Bee Workshop by Nivedha Ram and Naveen Ram at JNV Kalapet, Pondicherry


A wave of giggles and snickers ran through the crowd of seventy children sitting before me in uniform clothing and smiles. I stood in front of the sea of seventh graders, satisfied with the looks of astonishment on their faces. I had come in with the idea of changing their lives by introducing them to the amazing world of spelling bees, but instead they were slowly changing my life. One particularly brave girl, Thulasi, stood up and raised her hand.
"We can't spell that! It's such a long word!" she exclaimed. The other children all nodded in agreement, and the boys started snickering. They were underestimating the power of language roots, and their own intelligence.
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"Let's break it down!" I told them, and for the next few minutes, the seventy children, my brother, and I split that monstrous word into manageable pieces until every single child could chant the spelling themselves. One of the smaller girls, burst into a smile, and stood up to spell it all by herself. Even the boys, who usually could not sit still or tried to mimic my distinctive accent, studiously wrote and rewrote the word into the notebooks I had asked them to bring with them to every workshop.

Looking at these enthusiastic children in the classroom might cause people to believe that they are just ordinary children. However, ordinary is definitely not the best word to describe these children. In fact, the school itself, though seemingly ordinary with a track, gymnasium, and cafeteria, is far from usual. The Navodhaya School, founded in 1985, is special because it provides impoverished children with an opportunity to learn. The children themselves are different from you or me. Some do not have fathers, while others do not have homes. Behind their calm exterior, they have a past, or present, filled with horrific tragedies and poverty.

When I first entered a classroom of these children three years ago, as an eighth grader, I came with the idea that I was going to bestow these children with knowledge. None of the children knew what spelling bees or math bees were. However, as I sat in the classroom for the first time, I sensed that there were much more important forces at work in this school. There are no custodians because the children who live and learn there also sweep the floors, clean the toilets, and wash their own laundry. These children, who come from the streets or small villages, are able to use computers, pursue hobbies, and speak foreign languages because of the school. Yet, the struggles they had to face to become the top scorers in the country astounded me. One girl told me how when she brought home a scholarship to college, her father poured oil on her and tried to set her on fire so he could keep the money for himself. But the girl stayed strong and continued to pursue her education, and I realize that her education is what gave her the strength to carry on with the hope to make something of herself.

Three years later, when I returned to Pondicherry with the task of conducting a spelling and vocabulary workshop as part of the APNA program, I was a little afraid. The children I met three years ago seemed wiser and worldlier than me, because of the obstacles they had to overcome. Yet, when I first stepped into the small room, with seventy seventh graders sitting on the floor in front of me, all my inhibitions disappeared. Their smiles were infectious, and their thirst to learn was overwhelming. I have conducted spelling bees in my region, and most of the children are usually shy and afraid to answer questions. But these children were filled with energy, raising their hands and jumping up to complete even the small task of reading a bullet point on the PowerPoint presentation. As a teacher, I found my energy rising higher and higher as their encouragement led me to teaching for more than the allotted time. At the end of the first day of the Spelling Bee Workshop, I try to recap what we had learned.

"What's at the beginning of a word?"
"What's at the end of a word?"

Throughout the workshop, my brother and I were able to cover many complicated concepts with the seventh and eighth graders. We started with simple spelling rules, which helped introduce them to the idea of Spelling Bees. The children's favorite workshops were the ones involving world languages. Each of the unique qualities of the languages seemed to stick in their minds instantly. For example, the "double-a" in umfaan, a word from Afrikaans, and the "ph" in cacophony, were some of their favorite complicated spelling patterns. What really impressed me was that when I was sitting around the school during breaks, the children would come up to me with their dictionaries and excitedly show me an example of something they had learned. As a teacher, I was truly blessed to have children who were excited by learning.

Finally, as I left the school each day, all the children crowded around me trying to hold my hands, give me chocolates, or simply smile at me. In the moments after each workshop is when I felt most thankful for North South Foundation for giving me the chance to teach these children through the APNA program. Everyday, instead of being drained due to the hours of speaking in front of the children, I felt energized by their endless enthusiasm. They cherish the simple things we take for granted.

Finally on the last day of the Spelling Bee workshop, we conducted a competition in the gym for all the students. I felt more proud than I ever have for my own accomplishments when I heard them asking for the language of origin or the definition. Finally, at the end of the competition, one boy almost got a perfect score on words most high schoolers can't spell.

In the United States, I have grown up with North South Foundation, and have witnessed and experienced the incredible impact it has on children over the course of their elementary school and middle school years. Personally, North South Foundation helped me discover the joy of learning, which I can take with me next year to college, and to the rest of my life. However, with this experience I had had the opportunity to directly impact the underprivileged children of India through North South Foundation’s APNA program. It was incredibly humbling to observe how much the children changed over the course of just one week. Thulasi even promised me she was going to continue to spell and participate in spelling bees later. The children begged me to come back next year and teach them more math and science, since we mostly covered spelling and vocabulary in our workshops. The APNA program was refreshing because I witnessed children, who have come from poverty, come together and pursue learning with focus and optimism.

However, the children weren't the only ones who amazed me. The stars of the school are actually the teachers and faculty. These teachers have dedicated their lives to the service of the school because they truly believe in its mission to find brilliant children in the rural areas of India and cultivate their love for learning. The Vice-Principal, Mrs. R Kamalam, tended to us throughout the day, and let me sit in the XII standard class. The teachers were all so sweet and welcoming to me, and the students in the class asked me questions about how schools in America work. They were extremely surprised that I could choose the classes I want to take, because they have a rigid schedule. Throughout the process of setting up the Spelling Bee workshops, the principal, Vinayathan Sir, aided us, and my brother and I are so thankful for their accommodations.

The only regret I had was leaving the children. I had the urge to stay with them and keep teaching them, because the APNA program was incredibly rewarding. On the last day, all the little girls crowded around me, excitedly holding my hands and asking me questions. The innocence of their questions moved me incredibly.

"Did you get here by train from America, sister?"
"Did it cost more than 50 rupees to get here, sister?"
"What is a basement?"
"Can you please sing us a song? Your voice is so sweet, sister!"

So on the last day, before I left, we all sat in a circle and sang songs that we all knew well. As we belted out "The Kolaveri Song", the music connected us. My parents, who helped my brother and I so much, passed out the presents we bought for all the children. Finally, we left -- but only after promising the children that we would return and teach them more next year!


I would like to thank North South Foundation for the opportunity to participate in the APNA program. When I first visited the JNV schools in eighth grade I really wanted to give back to the school, but I didn't know how. The APNA program is a perfect way to help these children, because it increases their knowledge and love for learning. I especially want to thank Mr. Venkat Gade for preparing us and sending us the materials and guidelines for the workshop. We really couldn’t have done it without his help and support! I would also like to thank my parents for all their efforts to help us. I want to thank my father for organizing the workshop with the principal, Vinayathan Sir, and my mom for helping us in the workshops with content and translation.
Finally, I want to thank my brother Naveen for teaching the children with me and helping me during the workshops! – Nivedha Ram

Ramya Auroprem
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member
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The new 2012-2013 scholarship season is in session,and all chapters are receiving applications. We have some new volunteers working on new chapters with the help of their parents in India. In an effort to increase awareness about NSF scholarships, our team made a 2012-2013 PR package consisting of an application, cover letter, and flier. Furthermore, the online application system is open and students are applying online as well.
As always, the scholarship team is looking to improve and expand, and would love to have your help. If you have any ideas or are interested in helping, please contact us at

NSF Scholarships Team
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article was compiled from an outline of a speech presented by Snigdha Nandipati, champion of the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee, earlier in the year. All quotes are from her, and I have tried to remain true to the message she intended to deliver.)

Spelling Lessons

"What is the importance of spelling in real life? Many people ask, is it worth the effort in the long run? They favor other competitions such as MathCounts, Science Olympiad, Geography Bee... They think that spelling is just a waste of time, not like the other competitions where you learn useful information”. But this, says Snigdha Nandipati, is the misconception. And Snigdha should know- she’s the champion of the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

So what can we learn from spelling bees?
The answer, as it happens, is more than the average person might expect. Snigdha's extensive study of Latin and Greek roots supplements her interest in medicine. In addition, she says, preparing for the Bee helped her to enrich her language arts abilities, expand her vocabulary, acquire important study techniques, and develop more articulate essay-writing and speech-presenting skills. Her study of words also "[taught her] about different cultures around the world, because words come from many different languages before coming into English". However, the gains from spelling bees are not purely academic. One of the most important life lessons Snigdha says she learned was that she should never give up. "Last year, I placed 27th, and if I had given up, I wouldn't have placed 1st this year… Stay positive, because it is what keeps you motivated in achieving your goal". Her journey also reinforced her beliefs that "luck favors the prepared mind", and that no goal is achieved without putting forth the utmost effort.

Snigdha first developed an interest in spelling when she was just 4 years old. As her father drove her to and from school, she spelled the words she saw on billboards and signs. Her first spelling bee took place when she was in third grade. During that bee, she was tripped up by the word ferocious, but the experience didn’t discourage her. Far from it - in fact, "the day I came home after my first spelling bee, I asked my dad if I could participate in another spelling bee. He immediately went online to look up some local competitions that I could participate in, and in the process found out about the Scripps National Spelling Bee." To learn, we depend on our senses to analyze the information around us. With this in mind, most people fall into one of three categories: visual learners, who learn by seeing and looking; auditory learners, who learn by hearing and listening; and kinesthetic learners, who learn by touching and doing. "I am a kinesthetic learner. Last year, I used flash cards, but they didn't work because they didn't test my knowledge after I had studied", Snigdhasays. She then switched to a different method – software, which allowed her to test herself on everything she learned. She also paid attention to word roots, familiarized herself with the spelling patterns of different languages, and made lists of words that she found particularly challenging. Two tools that proved useful for the last task were sticky notes and a whiteboard.

What about words that don't follow any rules at all? "In these cases, I looked up the word on Wikipedia and researched its background for about 10 minutes. This helped me remember it in the long term." One of Snigdha's "research words" was pidan, a traditional Chinese dish of duck eggs soaked in brine. Because she had taken the time to find out what it was, she was able to recognize it immediately when it was used during the 2012 Bee. "Memorizing is not worth it – it only helps you remember things for a short amount of time, and will not be useful to you later in life. People think that spelling bees only involve memorization. Every word has a special aspect, and we should respect that by learning more about it."

In the year leading up to the Bee, Snigdha tried to study a little every day. "The 2 months before the National Bee, I studied as much as 6 hours a day during the week and 12 hours a day during the weekend". She acknowledges that she became frustrated a few times, wondering whether the effort would pay off. However, although her preparation was very intense, "it was definitely worth it". As for Bee Week itself, Snigdha "really enjoyed it. I made lots of new friends, and I realized that it was a friendly competition." She concurs with the opinion of so many spellers before her: "We're not competing against the spellers, but against the dictionary".

Since the 2012 Bee, Snigdha's life has changed in more ways than one. Following her victory, she was invited to appear for several TV shows, many conferences, and countless interviews. She especially enjoyed being on Jimmy Kimmel Live. "I'm not known as Snigdha anymore, but rather as the Spelling Bee Champ!" She hopes to attend Harvard University and eventually become a psychiatrist or neurosurgeon; she's confident that spelling will "definitely" help her achieve these goals. Her advice to readers? "If you have a goal in mind that you want to achieve, don't hesitate to bring it forth. Parents, if your child has an interest in something that he or she truly wants to do, don't discourage them, even if it may not seem as helpful as some other things."

After all, although spelling didn’t seem like it would be very helpful later in Snigdha's life, it certainly was.

(During her speech, Snigdha thanked the following people: her father, “for coaching me so well”; her family, "for supporting me through the ups and downs of the journey"; her friends, "for watching me while I was spelling, and cheering me on the whole time"; her teachers, "for introducing to me the helpful study techniques to learn anything"; her school, for signing up to participate up in the Bee at her family's request; U-T San Diego for being an excellent sponsor, and the San Diego community for encouraging her and rooting for her along the way.)

Sukanya Roy
NSF Newsletter Editorial Team Member

The Orange, White and Green
Anivarya Kumar

As the plane hovers over the very outlines of this precious land
The blacks of pupils freeze from the gentle frost, awaiting a city so grand
Yet the sun pumps its heat through every vein like a crackling fire
Growing faster, louder, wilder to intensify desire
The icicles on the very eyes melt drop by drop
And our legs weaken from the walks that we cannot stop
But the magic ahead of us is what we long for
As the THUD of each pulse draws us closer and makes us sore
Do not be mistaken, for this is not pain
It’s purity in illusion created by the brain
For we see the wonders of India's orange, white, and green
The scent of a spice arising into the air
Caresses the city with a quilt of prayer
The sound of bells in the temple ring through the depth of our ears
As the touching intake of the scene gifts our eyes with tears
The intricate carvings of each stone
Peels our layers to the very bone
We are awestruck by the architecture before our eyes
As we tremble at the touch of its gleaming dyes
Beyond the horizon, the greenery mocks us with its beauty
And the breeze carries us home as if its duty
The songs of Bollywood kick right in
As the dances leave footprints on the land's outer skin
Then we lift our heads and salute the flag
For we see the wonders of India’s orange, white, and green

Anivarya is an eighth grader at Altadena Middle School in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to winning first place in this year's NSF essay competition, she has published her own book, "Two Lives One Decision". Anivarya's hobbies include reading, writing, and playing the piano and flute.
Do you have a story, poem, essay, or some artwork to share? Please send an e-mail with the attachments to In addition to your entry, please send in a scanned copy of your photograph, name of your school and city, your grade level, and your hobbies.


Ramya Auroprem, Shrinidhi Thirumalai, Sukanya Roy, Ferdine Silva, Vignesh Kumar, and Madhav Durbha


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